South Dakota AG receives fines and no jail time for pedestrian deaths

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg agreed to plead not guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor traffic offenses relating to a fatal pedestrian crash in 2013. He avoided jail time despite bitter complaints by the victim's family that Ravnsborg was being punished too lightly for actions they considered "inexcusable."

South Dakota AG receives fines and no jail time for pedestrian deaths

Circuit Judge John Brown was limited in his ability to order jail time. Instead, he issued a $500 fine to the top state law enforcement officer and ordered him pay $3,742 in court costs. Brown also directed the Republican attorney general "to do a significant public services event" within five years of Joseph Boever's passing -- in accordance with a request by the Boever family. After Ravnsborg's lawyer objected, Brown put the matter on hold.

Brown was to reconsider that argument and rule later.

Ravnsborg stated in a statement that he intends to continue in office after the hearing. This plea ended the criminal part of a case that had led to Gov. Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican, and law enforcement agencies around the state voted against him. But it didn't end his troubles, as he still faces a likely lawsuit from Boever's widow and a potential impeachment attempt.

He said that he had accused "partisan opportunityists" of exploiting this situation. He also stated that they had "made rumors, conspiracy theories, and made statements in direct contradiction with the evidence all sides agreed on."

In a statement that followed, Noem stated that the Legislature should be considering impeachment. She stated that she had given the House speaker a copy the investigative file.

After returning from a political fundraiser, the attorney general was driving to Pierre when he hit the 55-year old Boever, who was walking along the side of the highway. Ravnsborg initially was unsure of what he hit, but he later realized it was a deer. Ravnsborg claimed that he didn’t know he had struck a man until he returned the following day to the crash site and found Boever's body. Boever was 55 years old.

Ravnsborg pleaded not guilty to the charges of illegal lane changing and using a cellphone while driving. Each of these offenses can result in a maximum sentence of 30 days in prison and a $500 fine. He had been charged with three misdemeanors, but prosecutors dropped a careless driving charge as part of the deal.

Although a no contest plea does not constitute an admission of guilt, it is treated as such in sentencing.

Ravnsborg did not attend the hearing. He didn't have a reason to, and Tim Rensch was his attorney. Boever's family was furious.

"Why, after waiting nearly a year for him to face us?" Boever's sister Jane Boever asked the court and added, "His cowardly behavior leaves me frustrated."

She claimed that her brother died because he was "left behind carelessly". Ravnsborg was accused of killing her brother, and then using his position to drag the case along. She claimed that he showed no remorse and only an "arrogance towards the law"

Jane Boever also expressed frustration with the prosecution's handling and called the punishment for misdemeanors "a slap on both the wrist."

She said, "Our brother was in the ditch for twelve hours." This is unacceptable.

Jennifer Boever, Joseph Boever's widow said Ravnsborg was "incomprehensible" and that she could not forgive him.

Rensch was firm in his criticism of the family's criticism and called the attorney general an honorable man. Rensch stated that Ravsnborg had been consistent since the beginning, saying that he did not see Boever. He also noted that the case wasn't a case of homicide and it's certainly not a case of manslaughter, as the prosecutors stated in bringing the misdemeanor cases.

"Accidents happen, people die. It shouldn't happen. He said, "No one wants anyone to die."

Rensch stated emphatically to reporters that Ravnsborg had fully cooperated with investigators, by sitting down for two interviews and allowing his phones be analyzed.

Rensch stated, "Basically, just take off your shirt and say, "Here I am. Bring it on."

Michael Moore, the Beadle County State Attorney, was one of the prosecutors who agreed with Rensch about the cooperation of the attorney general. He was also pleased with Ravnsborg’s sentence and the investigation into the crash.

He said that the investigation was more thorough because of the high-profile nature of the case and who it was.

Prosecutors indicted Ravnsborg for the misdemeanors. Noem put maximum pressure on Ravnsborg, and released videos of him being questioned by investigators after the crash. The details revealed horrifying details such as the fact that Boever's body was believed to have collided with Ravnsborg’s windshield, causing part of his eyeglasses to be deposited in Ravnsborg’s backseat.

Rensch stated to reporters that he believes Noem treated Ravnsborg unfairly and claimed that he was subject to political attacks as the case progressed. In February, the judge prohibited state officials from disclosing details of the investigation. He also ordered that the interview videos be removed from a state-run site.

Throughout the criminal investigation and political pressure campaign from his own party, Ravnsborg has adamantly denied he did anything wrong. He insists that he did not know he hit a person until returning to the crash site.

Prosecutors claimed Ravnsborg was using his phone about one minute before the crash. However, phone records show that it was locked at impact. Ravnsborg told investigators that the last thing he remembered before impact was turning off the radio and looking down at the speedometer.

Ravnsborg was not found with alcohol in his system according to a toxicology report that was completed 15 hours after the accident. People who attended the fundraiser also stated that Ravnsborg had not been seen drinking alcohol.

The investigation and crash have caused a division among Republicans. Noem tried repeatedly to force Ravnsborg from office but he has retained support among some GOP circles. In recent weeks, the attorney general was even seen working at booths for local Republican groups at county fairs.

His political rise was built on his personal connections within the party. It was his dutiful attendance at local GOP events like the one he was returning from when he struck Boever that propelled him from being a party outsider to winning the Republican nomination for attorney general in 2018.

Marty Jackley, Ravnsborg's beloved predecessor, is running for his old job. He has the support of many of the state's county attorneys. Ravnsborg's most pressing concern is the fact that lawmakers are considering reopening impeachment proceedings.